I was headed down I-26 West on Monday around 1:30 for an interview in Johnson City. When I came around the curve near mile marker nine, I saw something completely unexpected.
A tractor trailer was in the middle of the road blocking both lanes of traffic. Smoke was rolling from the front of the truck.
A man was running as fast he could towards the wreck. So I pulled my car to the side of the road and got out. I took off running to the wreck, thinking somebody may need some help.
As I was running, I saw a man to my left reach into his trunk and grab something. I later found out it was an emergency vest. To my right, what looked like a small creek had begun to flow down the side of the road. It was oil.
I slowed down as I got closer. About the same time, the passenger side door of the truck was flung open. A thin man with gray hair and a dazed look on his face stumbled out of the truck.
The man who had been sprinting towards the wreck when I first pulled up had hopped over the flat trailer. When I got closer, I found out why.
On the other side of the truck sat a red car. The car was crushed with the driver’s side caved in, making the front of the car form the shape of a J.
There were three or four people surrounding the red car. The man who had sprinted to the wreck looked inside and yelled, “Are you okay?” There was no response.
While standing there not knowing what to do, another man came sprinting behind me and leaped onto the trailer and across to the other side. He said he was a firefighter and knew what to do in these situations.
When he approached the red car, he asked if anybody had called 911. I didn’t hear the answer, but thought I should call.
Two other men had gotten the driver of the truck pulled off to the side behind me. I heard a little bit of the conversation.
“It looks like you blew a tire,” a man said.
“I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop,” the driver said.
I looked over to my left and saw the guardrail peeled back like a can opener had been taken to it. Huge tire tracks scarred the median and dirt was all over the road.
I stepped back and dialed 911. The operator asked if I was calling about the wreck on I-26 and I said I was. She said they had emergency personnel on the way.
Seeing the driver was being taken care of and knowing there was nothing I could do for the person in the red car, I headed back to my vehicle.
Halfway to my car, I remembered that I am a reporter and I should probably get a photo for the story. I was conflicted though, because I didn’t want to seem like a vulture.
When I turned around to take the picture, I saw gas spraying out of the truck’s ruptured gas tank.
When I sat down in my car and called my editor, I heard the first sirens of emergency personnel. An ambulance was the first to arrive, followed by a fire truck then police cars. They quickly took over and began to get the situation under control.
I am writing this not to celebrate me, but to celebrate the people who ran towards the wreck.
I have written about heroes helping people before. But I’ve never witnessed it in person. It was truly amazing.
I found out last night the person in the red car died. I would like to say I’m sorry to the person’s family. I wish there was something I could have done or the other people involved could have done.
I wish I knew the names of all the people who were there and who tried to help. I want to thank them for their bravery.